The Case Against To-Do Lists (and What to Use Instead)
Imagine you bought a new phone, but at the end of each day, every day, the operating system crashed. Would you keep using the faulty phone…
The only to-do list I use is my Jira Kanban board 😂
I'm a dev and Idk why task management apps have never worked for me, and I've tried asana, evernote, trello, todoist, notes (mac), and some ios apps. I guess I've been a schedule builder without knowing it's a a good thing. I hate to-do lists.
I really enjoyed using Trello when it was introduced around 2015-16. It was my first experience with Kanban boards. But it hasn't changed in 6 years. Absolutely no change. Sure, there are power-ups and stuff but it just doesn't help with scheduling. I just end up with bunch lists with cards.
I think "you're using it wrong" is maybe a better statement on To Do lists. There is absolutely nothing wrong with maintaining an overall list before you time block it. That's a "backlog." How else would you know what to scope into your day if you didn't have a broad view of all things that have to get done. I think the problem is the same as with email -- people get into triage mode and just don't have a system for getting through a list that lacks context.
Time-blocking or scheduling gives you that context, but you need to start from somewhere (you also have to learn how long tasks take to do). I like to keep a to-do list at the top of my work with my overall goals or priorities. I journal as I get things done or don't to learn where I get jammed up. Wrote about it here and ended up building it into my app at the top of the dashboard.
Basically, for me, the Todo list isn't broken, it's just not being used for goal-setting and instead gets used as a task inbox which is overwhelming and not ideal. Time-blocking and tons of other methods are better.
You make a good point about having a proper backlog so that you can schedule and plan ahead.
People tend to use the available task management apps and fall in the trap of over categorization. Now, the backlog is too fragmented to be meaningful.
A lot of the apps such as Todoist get users to set up a daily goal of completing N tasks. How is that even helpful apart from retaining the users?
Totally agreed. Maybe you only have 1 deep thing to get done today. N tasks is totally arbitrary. For me the "todo" list is accompanied by a journal and used really to track my goals and my success so that where I get stuff done, time blocking and otherwise hacking my effort can be tracked. The world of equal-weighted "tasks" that are only distinguished by a due date should be over.
Don't say you're busy - you just allocate your time to something else
Definitely agree on this. To-do lists are stale and too cluttered. I mostly use phone's built-in Calendar app to track the tasks day-by-day. If I'm not able to cross out one or two tasks, I just reschedule to a later date. Simple approach but actionable.
Calendar apps do work well but they still lack a few things that are essential for managing tasks effectively. Google Calendar has now integrated some part of Google Tasks within the calendar, but Google Tasks is broken to begin with.
This is exactly what I'm thinking of as well, I started making a todo list + calendar tool, where you can schedule your todos onto your calendar, at https://getartemis.app
Always been something I've struggled with.. very easy to hone in solely on what needs to be done, and not when to do it, when the reality is that the latter really is the key to the former..
Indeed. There will always be more and more things to do but we just have 24 hours in a day. No matter how hard we try, we can't beat the clock.
Absolutely, 100% agree. Great article.
Nice insight @jayrambhia. I try to schedule all my tasks in my calendar each day. It is not always perfect, but it helps to keep me on track for doing "what I said I would do, for as long as I said I would, without distraction" better than a To Do List does.
Time blocking is an effective technique to maximize productivity.
Actually, it's not against To-Do lists. It argues that they should be just a part of your time management toolbox. And that's reasonable. Batching tasks and scheduling them is always a good idea.
Yes. But people fall in the trap of over categorization. Tags / categories / projects / subprojects / lists / labels / contexts ...
While these definitely help in dividing work and things to do, none of these help with when to do it. People end up with fragmented tasks and managing it becomes increasingly difficult.